let kids watch beauty and the beast

Homeschooling in the popular culture

Sunday night, the children and I sat down to watch a movie on Hulu since we have no television (and no real interest in football, anyway.)  On the lineup?  Princess, because I’ve had about all the Flipper and Fudge I can take.  The plot doesn’t really matter.  Suffice it to say, she doesn’t get out much, having spent almost her entire life in this castle.  And it doesn’t take long for the writers to invoke our culture’s one great symbol of isolation:

Rumor has it, she was homeschooled.

Being a princess, you sort of automatically think of governesses and tutors, for what sort of princess is properly homeschooled?  But nothing says locked-away-in-a-tower quite like homeschooled, so homeschooled she was.  And seriously, how else would lines like “I don’t socialize much,” and “Can you tell I’m not used to this?” (referring to, uh, having a conversation) make any sense?

Now we homeschool.  Locked away in the west tower, looking out over the kingdom and unable to have any part in it.  I asked my children what they thought about the comment, but the negative undertone passed by them unnoticed.

Of course she was homeschooled, mom.  She doesn’t have time for school with all those mythological monsters to take care of.

So I don’t have to worry about what subliminal messages they are being fed, just yet.  It all makes sense within the context of their own experience and beliefs about what homeschooling is and is not.

But the stereotypes are heavy on my mind as I look around at nearby churches.  It is a long drive in to Lincoln for worship, long enough to negate any real participation in the church community there.  When our commitments are through, I hope to move to a local church where we can be part of an active community.

I’d never really thought about it before.  I know people who have had difficulty in their home churches due to homeschooling, but Lincoln is big enough that it just isn’t that hard to move to another church.  The pickings are slim, out here, and somehow, we’re going to just have to make things work if we want to worship in our own community.

I like the idea of that, but I guess we shall see how it plays out once we begin actually visiting churches.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

Thoughts of a secular German homeschooler on the asylum case

The story of how the Romeike’s, a German homeschooling family, was granted asylum by a judge in Tennessee has made quite a few waves, with reports in Time, Education Week, Forbes, The Washington Post, not to mention blogs.  I’ve seen a nearly constant stream of updates in Twitter as yet another circle of people I follow learn the news and pass it on.

Homeschooling, it seems, may have finally been defined as a basic human right as well as a particular social group by an American court.  HSLDA says they took the case partially in hopes of influencing public opinion in Germany.  It certainly has spurred the national debate, with the story hitting major newspapers, television, radio and the German blogs are on fire with the discussion.

I wanted to provide a slightly different perspective on the issue, with the thoughts of a secular German homeschooler/unschooler who currently has children in the German public schools.  The translation is my own.

Thoughts on the Romeikes:

The WDR (Translator’s note: West German Radio, German public broadcasting) holds a team meeting, One of the topics:  The Romeike Family.  The current WDR editor asks whether one can be skeptical of the Christian views.  I, like the conversation partner who spoke with the WDR, think yes, one may.  BUT no one, because of his beliefs or because he represents a minority, should have to leave this country, because enough other families know that things aren’t the best with our own schools.

“Why shouldn’t we allow home education in Germany, where perhaps only a couple thousand would take this option?” were the thoughts posed to the WDR.  The answer came quickly.  The editor said only two words, “If that.”

Yes, if only a few thousand families were to home educate.  If only a third of these did so for Christian reasons.  A strong country should respect its minorities and not suppress them.  Because most Germans love their land and should be supported.  The editor also took these thoughts in his meeting.

I’ve been at “learning at home” for almost six years with my oldest son Manuel, whom many of you know.  For almost two years, he has been learning almost fully alone.  The first years were also arduous:  Considering what needed to be learned, the search for materials, the preparation and follow-up, the learning alongside.  It was also expensive, in two regards:  all the books to buy, supplemental materials, one tinkers, works, holds animals, plants and visits museums and other institutions–everything for education.  And one pays court costs in order to be clear of penalties and fines.  It was also a very beautiful time and it is still now, because Manuel has become an independent, self-possessed young person–like many free learners I have come to know.  Most do it for reasons very different from the Romeikes, the authorities however proceed the same: Fines and penalties and finally comes the youth welfare office, which tries to compel the children to school with threats.

Now my youngest two sons go to school–many of their best friends are unschoolers and homeschoolers.  They go to school, because that is what one does, because they can and are successful and–and because they may learn at home what they do not receive in school.  Without challenge at home, without support for their interests, the education in the school would be insufficient.  I was raised Christian, but am of the opinion that my children should decide for themselves which beliefs they would like to have and was always dissatisfied with the religious instruction in the schools.  Therefore, my sons go to Ethics.  (Translator’s note:  Religious education is compulsory in Germany, generally Protestant in the north and Catholic in the south.)

Today in the school is a participatory concert, a minister will come, he will sing with the children.  In the first two school hours.  Normally in this time, core subjects are taught.  Normally after that,  one of my children has PE, which is canceled for the day; a substitute teacher will keep the children busy.

We must pay 2 Euro per child for the minister’s concert, we received a parent letter which stated that the children of the first grades would participate in the concert as a required event.  We were not asked how we felt about that.

I asked my children if I should ask the teachers what the Ethics children were to do in that time–and whether they would actually like to go.  My younger son gave the answer: “But Mama, we’re singing the songs of Noah’s Ark, we’ve been practicing.  EVERYONE’S going.”  We’re a democratic household, had the boys said they wouldn’t like to go, it would have to be considered how the school could accommodate the children.  So it was naturally also simple, they wanted to participate, so they will participate.

I had no more words after that for the statements of my children, I had to reflect on that.  Clearly, today they have gone there.  It is sure that it will be fun for them.  But I have understood what persuades Christian homeschoolers like the Romeikes to leave this country, although I find it unfortunate.  We still have a constitution, with parental rights and freedom of belief.  I have tried to grant this freedom of belief to my children.  I hold to the law and my children attend a state school, which also has nice aspects, because in that time I can work and have time for my children in the afternoons.

But–today the state, represented by the primary school, determines that my children are required to compensate and accompany a minister for a concert and prior to this, the school successfully proselytised them and taught them subjects of faith without my knowledge.

My children are strong children and tell everything at home and we will talk about it and answer the questions that come up.  But what about the children that have a home where parents do not have this time–because there is too little money and both parents must work all day?  What about the children who may not be able to bring their questions about new beliefs home to their parents?  Does the state really have the responsibility to determine in which Christian beliefs my children should be brought up?

After the Romeike’s asylum proceedings, the state, the schools and the teachers should reflect what their purposes are.  Above all that, while the press explains that Germans have fled to the USA for their freedom of belief and were granted asylum, today Christians, Muslims and children from other religions sat in an elementary school gymnasium and participated in a concert with a minister, the exact contents of which were previously unknown to us parents.

I wish the Romeike family well, and may Germany go thoughtfully into the day…

~Corinna

And indeed, what are the purposes of the state in education? Preparation for a global economy and socialization, the latter of which has significant parallels with the “parallel societies” argument Germany has used to support it’s persecution of homeschooling families.  That is also why I think it is important to get the answer to the ubiquitous question “What about socialization?” right.  We as homeschoolers are held in the middle of our own national conversation and while I do not foresee us seeking asylum abroad any time soon, I do believe how we answer this with friends and strangers may have a greater long term impact than all our legislative efforts.

I am happy to see this has sparked quite a bit of conversation in Germany.  It is one thing to hold that “children should go to school” and quite another to be confronted with the consequences of deciding not to, which at times leads to the decision to face losing your children or fleeing the country.  And while many have tried to make this about religion, Corinna makes it clear that your religious beliefs are irrelevant when the state discovers you are homeschooling.

What do you think about asylum being granted for homeschoolers fleeing Germany?

_________________

Other blogs discussing the decision:

HomeschoolBuzz
Why Homeschool
Examiner.com
Stop the ACLU
RedStateEclectic
The Teacher
The Divine Life
Home Education Magazine
Educating Germany
The Daily Salty
Babycenter

let kids watch beauty and the beast

A little homeschool-style socialization

Seated around our table with five of her friends, Mouse celebrated her eleventh birthday.

  • One is two years younger than she. One is three years older. The other three are her age.
  • All five are Christian. Only three attend our church.
  • Three are homeschooled. Two attend public school.
  • One lives down the street. Four live thirty minutes or more away.
  • One is Hispanic. One has enough Native American in her that you can tell. The other three are white.

And this in an area that is 91.4% white.

And I wonder, for all the concern about how homeschooled children will learn to appreciate diversity when raised in the bubble we have supposedly manufactured for them, how many children truly select friends who are so diverse?

We note how many opportunities homeschooled children have to play with others. We note that children do not learn to value others by sitting quietly next to them. We note that the playground is little more than a miniature stage for all our social ills.

We don’t like to talk so much about the challenges of giving our children the opportunity to develop friendships. Real, close, lasting friendships as opposed to numerous polite interactions with other children in an ever-rotating cycle of activities. Maybe that is because it isn’t a problem for many, but a number of homeschoolers I have talked to have sympathized readily with the need to be intentional in this area.

As I passed out scones, I thought that maybe that isn’t all bad. In school, you are surrounded by children. You have the option of forming bonds with others like you and building distinct barriers to keep those who are different away. With scarcity, however, comes a willingness to set aside superficial barriers such as race, income, location, etc., in favor of fulfilling the social needs every human being has.

When your class is 90% white, you notice the one Hispanic girl. Outside of that context, however, when you just want someone to play with, you are much more likely to notice that she is nice.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

On socialization and learning where we fit in the world

Hey, did you know we’re Mexican?

says the little girl at craft table at the library.  She couldn’t have been older than six.  Her little friend across from her dropped her scissors, mouth agape.

Don’t you call me that!

She was clearly insulted and the table fell silent, all eyes on the offender.  She averted her eyes, but there was no place to go.  She and her two friends had been told to stay there and color and stay she did.  Just before hurling this horrendous insult, she had been happily counting and singing . . . in Spanish.  Clearly, neither she nor anyone at the table had any particular issue with the country of their obvious heritage until it was named.

Mexican.

After a long moment of silence, the third girl leaned in and whispered, “It’s called Hispanic.  We’re Hispanic.”  With that, the tension eased and they went back to their playful chatter about school and television and friends.  They forgot about that dirty word.

Mexican.

She may as well have said, “Hey, did you know we were spics?”  Or niggers.  Or chinks.  Or any number of racial slurs.  I can’t help but wonder how a child growing up Hispanic in an Hispanic home with Hispanic friends, watching Dora the Explorer, who happily sings songs in Spanish in the library learns that Mexican is a dirty word.

This is socialization.  Learning what is “other,” labeling it and trying to make it conform.  This is the “leavening effect of democracy” which compulsory schooling offers.  It does not teach us to value difference, but to conform.  It does not teach us to handle conflict, but to submit to the capricious and cruel tendencies of small children with inadequate supervision.

Humans are fundamentally social creatures, and I would be the last to argue against teaching our children how to function within our social groups.  Socialization is a natural part of being human.  But how do we best teach this to our children?  Seated in neat rows while the teacher talks?  Or perhaps better seated in circles?  On the playground while an adult with a whistles chats with an aid and watches for any grievous rule breaks?  Or within the context of the family where true, selfless love can be experienced alongside daily modeling and guidance specific to each child’s needs?

let kids watch beauty and the beast

Discussing diversity with the homeschooled child

Catholic Dads recently asked how other homeschool families discuss homeschooling with family, friends and paticularly with the homeschooled children.  Particularly the questions of children seem to draw out uncertainties.  After all, we have so much power to frame the entire discussion and insert our views into our children.  Catholic Dad’s questions echo my own thoughts as I attempt to answer my daughter’s questions:

But how do we explain this [the reasons we homeschool] to a five year old without a.) giving him the impression that he’s missing out on something fantastic, b.) running the risk that he looks down his nose at other kids who do go to school or c.)getting the impression that schools and everything associated with them are to be avoided?  Homeschool Diplomacy

They are good questions and the answers deserve some pondering.  After all, short of sending your children off to school for an extended period, any answer given will only be part of the story.  It’s like trying to explain a foreign culture without it coming down to food, holidays and national costumes.

I don’t have an answer.

Actually, I have more questions.  Essentially, they are the same questions, broadened and not specific to homeschoolers.  How do we explain differences and diversity to our children?  Whether it is a woman dressed in a sari, or with a hijab covering her head, a child with obvious physical deformities or a man behaving bizarrely on a street corner, how do you address the questions your children have?

As a child stands staring, the most common reaction I see from parents is a swift diversion and a muttered “It’s impolite to stare!” as the child is whisked away.  Now, it is impolite to stare, and an important part of raising children is teaching them these finer points of social life.  But in that moment, the child has also noticed something:  people are different.  We come in different colors, shapes and sizes, we have different customs, we speak different languages and some of us suffer from diseases and disorders that make us noticeably different.  Some of us are hurting, are hungry and even smell.

But it is impolite to stare, so we whisk our children away.

I’d be the last to say that it is appropriate to turn the person into an object lesson. . .although a man with a neck injury at McDonald’s once told me he never minded the children staring.  It was the parents shuttling them out of sight that got to him.  But I can’t help but wonder how many parents pick up the conversation with their children later.

I wonder, because a lot is learned in that moment.  A lot more than perhaps we realize.  It brings us back to that socialization issue homeschoolers are so fond of:

The process whereby a child learns to get along with and to behave similarly to other people in the group, largely through imitation as well as group pressure.  Answers.com

It is also a process which occurs without critical analysis.  That quick but firm redirection (with perhaps a touch of shock) may teach our children a lot more about our culture than simply that it is impolite to stare.  After all, there seem to be certain “things not spoken of” that we aren’t even supposed to look at.

But how do we (and how should we) discuss these issues with young children?